Memorial Day is right around the corner, and that means grilling season is officially here. Your holiday cookout preparations are probably focused on burgers, skewers, and other grilled mains, but don't forget about the side dishes. Though salads might seem unexciting next to a gorgeously seared steak, they serve the vital purpose of rounding out and brightening up what can be an otherwise heavy meal.
We have lots of options to choose from, including updated potato salads, pasta salads, and coleslaws; more vegetable-forward dishes to keep it light; and even a few grilled salads. Keep reading for 21 of our favorite salads that are perfect for a Memorial Day cookout.
Classic Potato Salad
The best classic potato salad starts with the best potatoes. Dump a bunch of chopped potatoes into boiling water, and they'll come out crunchy at the center and mushy on the outside—definitely not what you want from potato salad. Our trick is to start the potatoes in cold water so that they cook evenly. The dressing you use is largely a matter of taste, but we like a balanced mixture of mayo, rice wine vinegar, sugar, mustard, and chopped cornichons.
Easy Fingerling Potato Salad With Creamy Dill Dressing
This recipe starts in the same way as our classic potato salad, with cooking the spuds in cold water seasoned with salt and vinegar. We make the dressing with tangy sour cream instead of mayonnaise for extra flavor, and add olive oil, vinegar, onion, and a generous amount of dill. Creamy fingerling potatoes are our favorite choice here, but Yukon Golds will work, too.
Creamy Vegan Fingerling Potato Salad
This potato salad manages to be super creamy without requiring a drop of mayonnaise—in fact, it's 100% vegan. Instead of making a standard potato salad dressing with vegan mayo, we use a sweet-tart vinaigrette thickened with starch-rich potato-cooking liquid and mashed Yukon Golds.
Simple Grilled-Potato Salad With Grilled-Lemon Vinaigrette
Once you start grilling your potatoes for potato salad, you may never want to go back to your standard recipe. This dairy-free version is made with new potatoes par-cooked on the stove, grilled until crispy, and dressed with a lemony vinaigrette. Grilling the lemons softens their tart flavor and gives the dressing an additional hint of smoke.
Japanese Potato Salad With Cucumbers, Carrots, and Red Onion
Japanese potato salad doesn't look much like its American cousin, but it will still be a hit at your Memorial Day cookout. The biggest difference is that the potatoes are mashed after boiling and packed with mix-ins; in this case, we use cucumber, carrots, red onion, hard-boiled egg, and scallions. The dressing is pretty similar to what you see on American potato salads—mayo, vinegar, and mustard—but we use Japanese-style Kewpie mayo and powdered hot mustard.
Simply slicing raw cabbage and tossing it with dressing is a recipe for disaster—not only does the cabbage come out unpleasantly crunchy, it also ends up shedding a ton of water that will turn your coleslaw into soup. The solution is to purge the cabbage (and other vegetables) with salt and sugar after shredding, which softens them, draws out excess water, and concentrates their flavor. After the cabbage has dried, it's ready to dress with a simple 3:1 mixture of mayo and apple cider vinegar, plus a bit of sharp Dijon mustard for extra flavor.
Super-Simple Tangy Buttermilk Coleslaw
If you're always ending up with a lot of leftover buttermilk on hand after using just a few ounces for a recipe, this is a handy way to use up the rest. We start this coleslaw just as in the recipe above, thinly slicing the vegetables (a mandoline works, but a food processor is faster) and purging them of excess moisture. The dressing is made with lots of tangy buttermilk, plus mayo, mustard, apple cider vinegar, and sugar.
The dressing for this spicy coleslaw starts with sour cream, which adds richness to mayonnaise and buttermilk. The slaw gets a little Tex-Mex flair from cumin, cilantro, lime, and jalapeños—we recommend seeding the pepper for a milder dish.
Looking for a dairy-free coleslaw? This one skips the mayo in favor of a dressing made with apple cider vinegar, sugar, olive oil, garlic, black pepper, and celery seed. We use a 1:1 ratio of vinegar to sugar in order to get the right balance of sweet and tangy.
Spicy Cabbage and Red Onion Slaw
This ultra-simple dairy-free slaw combines cabbage with red onion, fresh mint and cilantro, and Thai bird chilies, and dresses it with nothing more than lime juice and salt. If you're still deciding what protein to serve at your cookout, this slaw is a wonderful complement to our seekh kebabs.
Tangy and Creamy Macaroni Salad
Too much macaroni salad out there is dressed with little more than mayonnaise, which can be bland and unappealing even for a mayo lover. This recipe gives the dressing a more complex flavor by mixing the mayo with sour cream, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire, and hot sauce. It also adds celery, shallots, and scallions to give the dish plenty of crunch, thereby avoiding the all-too-common one-note texture.
Spanish Pasta Salad With Chorizo, Piquillo Peppers, and Pickled Onion
Looking for a more refined alternative to a typical pasta salad? This Spanish-inspired version is sauced with smoky Spanish chorizo, tart pickled yellow onion, and piquillo peppers. We normally like to cook our pasta al dente, but not for pasta salad—the noodles firm up as they cool, so you need to cook them a little longer to compensate.
Blistered-Tomato Pasta Salad With Basil
It's common to make summertime pasta salads with raw tomatoes and basil, but, while we love that flavor combination, we take issue with the technique—pasta and raw vegetables just don't work well together. Instead, we cook cherry tomatoes until they burst and use their juices to make a simple sauce, while keeping the basil raw to maintain its fresh, spicy flavor. This salad can be made a day in advance, but make sure not to add the basil until right before serving.
Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad With Cucumbers, Red Peppers, and Basil
This dish is almost as much of a vegetable salad as it is a pasta salad—we pair the noodles with tons of bell pepper, cucumber, bean sprouts, herbs, jalapeño, and scallions. A peanut butter–based dressing, flavored with soy sauce, chili sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, garlic, and honey, is rich enough to offset all those fresh ingredients. We like to make this salad with fresh Chinese wheat noodles, but dried linguine, fettuccine, or spaghetti will also work in a pinch.
Roman-Inspired Mixed-Green Salad (Misticanza alla Romana)
Though this salad is about as simple and modest as they come—mixed greens, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt—it'll stand out if you use only the freshest leafy greens and herbs that you can find at the market. Look especially for greens that are in season, which, right now, means tender leaves like arugula, watercress, and pea shoots. It doesn't sound like much, but there's no better way to cut through all the heavy grilled mains and sides at a cookout.
Classic Caprese Salad
It's just not summer without Caprese salad, and a good one is all about the quality of the ingredients. Though fresh tomatoes won't hit their peak till August and September, if you're really craving a Caprese now, look for smaller cherry and grape tomatoes, which tend to be far higher in quality than full-size tomatoes during the off season. This is also the time to hunt down the best fresh mozzarella available to you, reach for the top-shelf olive oil, and break out the fancy coarse sea salt. The result will be so good, you wouldn't dream of letting a bottle of balsamic vinegar near it—right?
Grilled Green Bean Salad With Red Peppers and Radishes
There's a point in every fire's life where it's not hot enough to sear a steak, but it still has plenty of energy left. Rather than waste that energy by letting the coals burn out, make this salad by charring green beans and mixing those beans with sliced radishes, scallions, and red peppers. Once you've got the hang of the recipe, you can use it as a blueprint for a whole variety of grilled salads—try a variation with asparagus tossed with red wine vinegar, olive oil, shallots, mint, and feta.
Catalonian-Inspired Grilled Vegetable Salad (Xató)
This salad makes double use of your fire: We grill chilies, tomato, almonds, hazelnuts, and bread and blend them up to make a vinegary romesco-like sauce, then serve that sauce on grilled endive and spring onions. Anchovies are a traditional xató ingredient, but since they can be polarizing, I recommend setting some out on the side and letting others decide whether or not to add them.
Bean Salad With Radicchio, Radish, Pickled Onions, and Marcona Almonds
Like all salads, bean salads are best when they're packed with contrasting textures and flavors. Here, that means crunchy radishes and Marcona almonds, bitter radicchio, and acidic pickled red onion, all dressed with a simple vinaigrette. We used orca beans in this version of the dish, but feel free to use turtle beans, navy beans, black-eyed peas, or whatever else you happen to have in your pantry.
Summer Squash Salad With Goat Cheese, Fennel, and Dill
This easy salad showcases young, tender summer squash, which we slice thinly on a mandoline and toss with fennel, dill, olive oil, lemon juice, and goat cheese. Toss everything together thoroughly except the cheese, and be gentle once it goes in—you want the cheese to stay in clumps, rather than dissolving in a milky coating.
Watermelon, Feta, and Mint Salad
Watermelon and feta salads became so trendy in the aughts that they eventually suffered a backlash. The fervor over them may have died down, but the combination of sweet fruit and salty cheese is as delicious as ever. Beyond those two ingredients, we like to add chopped mint leaves, olive oil, and a little minced lemon zest. As with our squash salad, we add the cheese last, and crumble it over the top, so it doesn't end up coating the watermelon and dominating the whole dish.